I had lost my temper at a shitty boss and decided to go full-time self-employed about a year before I found out that I was pregnant. Anyone who has had a child realises this timing is not ideal, but I was that naive about it all, I assumed that “duh, I work at home, of course I can manage that with a kid around!”. I quickly learnt that wasn’t quite the case. Working from home with a toddler is in no mean feat.
For the last four years, I’ve run my own business offering writing, marketing and social media services, and I’d built up a pretty solid client base in my first year of operations. I hadn’t finished up my final work for clients when I gave birth prematurely, and being a freelancer, I was quickly replaced by others. A couple of quick calls with HMRC at least convinced me that I could apply for some maternity funding (maternity allowance, as it’s called when you’re self-employed, is essentially maternity pay processed by the government rather than your employer), so I didn’t really think about work again until a few months into my new routine.
Getting back to work post-baby
I chose to go back to work partly out of necessity for the family finances and partly out of the need to do something out of the ‘baby bubble’ I was living in, To begin with, I was able to pick up my laptop and get on with some small tasks (as part of my ‘return to work’ days allowance), but pretty quickly, my son was rolling, crawling and trotting about all over the place; and I couldn’t sit down and focus for more than a few minutes without him needing attention/snacks/saving from some kind of dangerous situation he’d managed to get himself into. I enrolled him in a local nursery for a couple of half-days a week (where he still goes now, and LOVES), but not long after we got into a routine and I got back into regular client work: (Cardi B voice now…) coronaviiiiiiiirus!
Suddenly, I was plunged into attempting to work with a toddler who wanted to watch iPlayer on the very laptop I needed to work on and liked to type along as I did. It’s not been easy, and I’ll never claim to be an expert. These are just some of the things that have helped me cope and keep productive… even with little chubby fingers about.
Setting my own working hours
OK, so this is par for the course with freelancing, yeah, but coronavirus may actually have done me a favour with this. Clients are much more understanding of differing working patterns than they would be normally. I’m upfront with all clients from the off that I have a young child and that I don’t always have access to childcare. I always make it clear that there’s some times that I definitely will be unavailable. Most completely accept this and are cool with it; and if they’re not, it’s not as though I’d be able to work with them anyway. Best to find out early on!
I do set aside some times that are specifically my working times, so my partner takes my son. For me, this is when they go to a swimming lesson on a weekend and from bedtime onward most nights. Even if you can set aside just an hour a week that’s sacred work time for you, it’s better than nothing!
Under-promising and over-delivering
Something quite common amongst freelancers and homeworkers that I swear by is extending deadlines. I tend to overstate how long a task will take me to the client so that I can buy myself some leeway if needed. Most of the time, I can exceed their expectations. I’m open to ad hoc requests and urgent jobs, but make it clear that I need notice if possible. I simply can’t be free 24/7.
Lists, lists, lists
Yeah, I’m one of THOSE people. I used to set tasks and makes lists on my phone but ended up dismissing the notifications or not noticing them.
The idea of fancy stationery is super appealing to me but I’m too scrappy to keep anything nice for very long. I spent a fiver on a super basic list pad from WHSmith and it’s been a godsend! I write out a list the evening before for the next day and add to it as I need to. It helps me keep track of all my tasks even when I have to abandon something halfway through to stop a toddler drawing on the wall or ripping his nappy off in front of the window.
I love to tick shit off too, so I add EVERYTHIIIIIING on, right down to hoovering and laundry loads.
…to be fair they don’t ticked very often. HA.
Time Management: The Pomodoro Method
However much I may like an hour to myself to sit down and work solidly, it’s not likely to happen. Instead I’ve had to be a bit more creative (and realistic) with my time. I’ve adopted the ‘Pomodoro Method’, which I saw mentioned by Bethany Austin on Instagram and immediately tried out.
I split my work time into 25-min chunks. The method as such works as 25-min work followed by a 5-min break four times before taking a longer break. Realistically, that doesn’t always work for me – because my attention span is shocking and if my son is around it’s still too long a time period to distract him for. But, even if I just get one 25-min burst done at a time, it’s something! And while I’m there, something else helps…
Locking my phone
I use the Forest app to lock my phone for 25-min work bursts so that I can’t scroll mindlessly. I have a habit of immediately respond to messages that just don’t need an on-the-spot line back, too! Forest plants a virtual tree for you every time you lock your phone. If you exit the app, it kills the tree. Each healthy tree earns points, and when you earn enough points, you can plant a real-life tree! So it’s like, saving the world and shit, too (plus I feel guilt pangs if I accidentally kill a tree).
Forest logs how much time I’ve locked my phone for over a day, week, month and year. It’s pretty horrifying to look back on, tbh. I won’t even admit the figures! Working from home with a toddler does mean I occasionally have to hand over my phone for a game or video, but that can’t be avoided.
‘Out Of Office’ inspiration
It took me almost a year to adjust to being self-employed, and I’m still adjusting to working with a toddler around. It definitely feels less ‘professional’ in lots of ways, although I don’t undervalue my work or time.
I do suffer from a lack of motivation on occasion and need to remind myself that this is my JOB. Connecting with people professionally really helps me with this. The book ‘Out Of Office’ by my pal Fiona Thomas helped give me a renewed focus and is a great read if you’re already or thinking of becoming self-employed. There’s also a whole host of professional communities linking freelancers and home workers together online to suit every lifestyle, industry and niche. Lots offer remote development training and courses, and I’m a member of Grow and Glow.
I couldn’t find any specific guides or books with helpful tips for working from home with a toddler around, but if you have one, shout! Or, you know, maybe I’ll write a book on it. Lord knows I have the experience, ha.
Ensuring and insuring
When I’m at my most stressed, I’m at my least productive and successful. I’ve had loooooads of near-misses with making mistakes, and held my hand up to errors when I’ve needed to. Obvs, I can’t risk making a huge mistake and really messing shit up for a client, so I recently took out freelance insurance. I know, it’s wayyyyy too late for someone who’s been running their own business for literal YEARS. Duh.
There’s a few different insurance products out there and I can’t recommend anything because I’m not qualified to. I use Dinghy Freelance Insurance and have cover for professional indemnity, public liability and equipment. Put simply, professional indemnity = me fucking up and losing a client money. Public liability = me spilling a coffee on someone else’s laptop and ruining it. Equipment cover = me spilling a coffee on my own laptop and ruining it. It’s peace of mind for me and costs very little (out of my business account, ofc). Working from a home office (ish) with a toddler running around definitely increases the chance of me needing the latter!
If you’re WFH for an employer, check with them what facilities they have for their own equipment insurance. They may wanna up it a little if you have a toddler running around the house flinging toy cars at ya screen periodically. They should also help you set things up nicely and safely in your own space.
A good moan and a chat
In an office, aside from obviously not having to deal with a little person interrupting your work to tell you they need to use the potty (or more often, that they haven’t made it to one in time), you’re usually surrounded by other people. You can discuss, carefree, current affairs, what you’re working on, and have a good old gossip. When you’re at home, there’s often no one around who can hold a decent conversation with you. It can start to feel isolating. Unless, of course, you want to discuss Bob The Builder.
I totally recommend professional development groups for exactly this reason. You can connect online with people in your industry/area of interest and talk shop with them, but also just shoot the shit and chat Bake Off when needed. A good moan can be carthartic and online, there’s no office politics to juggle that can get in the way. I have an Instagram group of people from one of my groups that I chat with and I regularly hop onto Zoom for coffee and catch-ups with people too. It breaks up the day, gives me new perspectives and makes me feel a bit less like I’m on my own. Plus, when a half-naked toddler struts onto webcam, other homeworkers GET IT and it’s nowhere near as awkward as it would be if they walked into your boss’ office like it.
You just gotta ride it out.
You truly have to ‘go with the flow’ when freelancing and homeworking – some days you get abso-fucking-lutely nothing done, and others, you smash through your todo list. But once you settle into a routine, it’ll all begin to get a bit more productive; and rewarding. If you’re starting out and want a new WFH buddy, shout – I’m always up for a moan and a coffee and a chit chat through your day!
The featured image at the top of this page was taken by Charles Deluvio, for Unsplash.